Age of Ultron continues Marvel’s box office dominance
With Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel Studios’ crown jewel of its billion dollar franchise captures lighting (from Mjlonir) in a bottle again.
That it’s nearly as ridiculously entertaining, goofy grin-inducer as its 2012 predecessor makes this even more impressive. With Marvel’s The Avengers, we didn’t really know what to expect, but now the expectations are set and with Hawkeye-like precision Ultron meets them in a way that audiences should leave thoroughly satisfied.
Director/Writer Joss Whedon assembles Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) for another epic big screen adventure.
It kicks off with a battle against Hydra forces that pits them into a brief conflict with the speedster Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and telekinetic/mind manipulating Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).
The twins have an agenda against Iron Man/Tony Stark and set in motion plans that will have serious repercussions for everyone involved.
Whedon smartly advances the story beyond the events of the great battle in New York so the Avengers are a highly-efficient fighting unit instead of a ragtag group of individuals banding together every so often.
As we catch up with them, The Avengers have been on several unseen missions and bonded as friends, best exemplified as the team holds a party with their allies (including some fan favorite supporting characters from the solo films) to celebrate tying up a loose end from their encounter with Loki (Tom Hiddleston).
That loose end wasn’t resolved as neatly as they originally thought as their encounter with the twins leads to the Avengers being confronted by a new enemy, the android Ultron (voiced by James Spader).
Ultron has the traditional, cold mechanical look, but Spader gives him a surprising personality that makes him the best Marvel villain since Loki, still the gold standard of MCU villainy.
How Whedon works in The Vision (Paul Bettany) is also largely faithful to the source material with a modern twist to flow with the established movie continuity.
The Avengers get serious mileage out of their Quinjet this outing as the team battles in South Africa, England, Italy and Korea to really give credence to the whole Earth’s Mightiest Heroes tagline — not just in New York.
Whedon’s specialty has always been the personal relationships between his characters and despite the numerous majestic action sequences, the character interplay isn’t affected showing that blockbusters don’t have to be brainless. Downey Jr. remains the snarky, slightly cocky comic relief, Evans further asserts himself as the leader of an eclectic cast while Hemsworth gives Thor a great turn as the decisive hot head.
Each cast member gets welcome moments to shine, but Renner is the most unexpected scene-stealer as he continually questions his place among soldiers, gods and green behemoths.
Without going into spoilers, I did have some issues with one surprising twist for a character, the wasted death of another and the completely randomly thrown together Black Widow/Bruce Banner relationship.
With a $250 million budget, Marvel Studios and Disney sunk a lot of the other green into the film, but the money was well spent.
Yes, the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster Iron Man scene delivers everything you’d want and then some, but the other fight scenes are just as enthralling especially when Whedon pans the camera to shift from one character to the next in the heat of battle. And the climactic scene is pretty much guaranteed to leave comic fans grinning from ear to ear watching the assembled Avengers in action.
Age of Ultron is even more of a love letter for Avengers fans than the first installment. Of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, Ultron feels the most like a comic book story arc and less traditional summer blockbuster.
Unlike Marvel’s The Avengers, which was the nice and tidy final act to the Phase 1 introduction films, Ultron is less the conclusion of one act, but another pit stop across a firmly established Marvel Universe.
Whedon, like the great Avengers comic book writers including Kurt Busiek, Stan Lee, Jim Shooter and Roy Thomas, knows this isn’t the culmination of an ambitious project, but the springboard to the next round of adventures.
As such Whedon, who built his career as a TV writer/director, makes ‘Ultron’ more episodic with a slew of foreshadowing and hints of what’s to come. Scarlet Witch’s mind manipulations reveal the team’s worst fears that give us glimpses of The Avengers’ past and potential future, which is especially troubling to Stark and Thor.
For comic book fans, the teases of the next big storylines are going to feel like comic book nirvana as they anxiously await the next stop on the journey.
For the casual fan, the teases to Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok and Infinity War may seem like information overload with no immediate answers, but as future films pick up these plot threads, it will make far more sense and only serve to make Age of Ultron stronger as more pieces fall in place.
I’m already salivating at the prospect of watching a Marvel marathon once the Phase 3 films are complete with Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 in 2019.
Like I mentioned earlier, don’t sit past the stinger end credits unless you really want to be assured The Avengers will return or are simply too excited about the future of MCU to leave your seat. Totally understandable by the way.
Age of Ultron delivers as the epic summer blockbuster film of 2015 again and again. Avengers fans won’t walk out the theater disappointed … until they start calculating just how many more days until our next Avengers fix with Captain America: Civil War. It’s 370 days (not that I was counting or anything). May as well kill time by watching Age of Ultron a few more times in the theater.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Picture credit: Walt Disney Pictures